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Heroes

Hello. My name is Mikaela Trim.
I have been studying British Literature this past year, and on this site, I have chosen to publish my essays.
Seriously, all these writers are my heroes in one way or another.
I hope that if you read my writing, it will give you a need to read theirs. Enjoy.

LITERARY REVIEW of
“THE SECRET SHARER” by Joseph Conrad

Some believe in a nameless entity that is responsible for the judgment of our actions. A few have even gone as far as to call that entity “God.” My own life has centered around the church and God. There are many times that I have faced the issue of judgment with questions in my mind. What can happen when man assumes the role of judge? Can a person justifiably determine whether his or her or someone else’s actions should be condemned or excused? Where is the fine line that separates the black from the white, the goats from the sheep? In reading Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer,” I was able to see that he explores the idea of human judgment and the conflict that it induces.

The nameless antagonist and narrator of Conrad’s short story encounters the danger of psychological madness when he must decide how to deal with his “secret sharer” and the murder he committed prior to their chance meeting. The antagonist is the captain of his nameless ship; and it is his first time at this position. He himself is a stranger unto the crew and this entirely new self-contained universe. When another stranger appears, one with a similar history and character, the captain is immediately sympathetic to the murderer’s dilemma. However, as their secret grows and the wind takes them out to sea, the captain’s psychological well-being is challenged by a strange madness of sympathetic emotion.

Stowed away in the captain’s stateroom, the murderer wears the captain’s gray-colored sleeping suit. Gray lies between black and white; and while the murderer remains below in secret, the captain deliberates justice. After discovering the stranger in the “darkling glassy shimmer of the sea” (928) near the beginning of the story, and clothing him in a gray sleeping suit after hearing his story, the captain grows in sympathy for this man. Although his first encounter with the man occurred in the dark of night, and both doubt and sympathy pulled the captain between black and white, in the end, the captain pushes his “white hat” (946) onto his “double” (929) as he aids the murderer’s escape. Through the torment of psychological havoc, as sympathy and understanding constantly draw the captain’s mind to his occupied cabin and the “secret sharer,” the captain makes his judgment to let the murderer live, despite risking his crew members’ lives as he steers the boat dangerously close to land.

The murderer killed one man to save the rest of the crew on his ship; while the captain saved one man although he risked the rest of his crew’s lives as well as his own. These are two instances where human judgment could have failed. Perhaps it did. The deep moral question arises as to who or what is responsible for judgment and justice. The psychological conflict within the narrator’s mind is parallel to the moral conflict of the story. The sympathetic captain’s actions can be labeled just as violent as the murderer’s actions. Yet both violent men lived. The nameless ship saved both men; is there a nameless entity which can condemn or save us?

The heroes of the twentieth-century are not romantics who accomplish amazing feats and save damsels in distress. They are the men and women who approach psychological dangers such as isolation, alienation, and loneliness; and whether they defeat them or not, their actions are heroic because they faced reality. Conrad himself was familiar with the difficulties involved in facing circumstances, an orphan from the age of eleven, and an author who wrote in his second language. His repetition of themes such as isolation, alienation, lonliness, remorse, and failure hint that his own experience with psychological challenges may be the source of his realism. “The Secret Sharer” is just one of Conrad’s many works, and one of the dozens of modern works, in which the necessity of the hero facing his reality causes us to face ours.

VICTORIAN PERIOD
PERSONAL COMMENTARY ESSAY

In a personal commentary, identify the concerns of the 20th century novelists whom you are studying. Were their concerns valid? What views of the future remain with us today? Support your essay with current events and/or valid research.

“A failure to achieve a world guaranty of peace on the part of the diplomatists at a peace conference may lead, indeed, to a type of insurrection and revolution not merely destructive but preparatory.”
-HG Wells, League of Free Nations Association Chairman, 1919

The incredible threat of war is ever with us. Everyday, I open the newspaper and read of civil wars waged in Africa, the threat of nuclear war in Asia between India and Pakistan, and the chance of strikes in the oil-rich Middle East by the US. Not a day goes by that I do not hear of nations and organizations attempting to intervene, and prevent war. The most outstanding of these organizations is the United Nations, an organization of nations built on the ideal of peace and global stability and sustainability. In the Ivory Coast, UN peacekeepers work to stop the rebellion. The UN mediates the forum between India, Pakistan, and other nations devoted to averting any attack. Finally, the US, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, currently administering the War on Terrorism, is determined to enforce UN policies in Iraq. Our current concerns do not differ greatly from those expressed in earlier times. Following the “Great War,” now known as World War I, Woodrow Wilson proposed a League of Nations. “Under the lurid illumination of the world war, the idea of world-unification has passed rapidly from the sphere of the literary idealist into that of the methodical, practical man, and the task of an examination of its problems and possibilities, upon the scale which the near probability of an actual experiment demands, is thrust upon the world.” (The Atlantic Monthly) The League of Nations, although it failed and was abandoned, was the first expression of the need for a global organization to work for peace. 20th century novelist HG Wells had very distinct views on war, which are deeply expressed in The War of the Worlds, and his foresight into the future was incredibly accurate. Indeed, the failure of the League of Nations contributed to World War II, after which the United Nations was formed. “[This] is a choice between, on the one hand, a general agreement on the part of mankind to organize a permanent peace, and on the other, a progressive development of the preparation for war and the means of conducting war which must ultimately eat up human freedom and all human effort, and, as the phrase goes, destroy civilization.” (The Atlantic Monthly) “Mutually Assured Destruction” haunts us in our dreams, and we wake in the morning to bitter coffee and the obscene news headlines: “Missile attack confirms US fears” (The Daily Yomiuri), “Doubts over peace after attacks in Cote d’Ivoire” (The Daily Yomiuri), and “12 die in Kashmir temple siege” (The Daily Yomiuri). Wells’ concern for the future of our world plagued with war is still strong within us today.

“Strange mind of man! With our species upon the edge of extermination or appalling degradation, with no clear prospect before us but the chance of a horrible death, we could sit following the chance of this painted pasteboard, and playing the ‘joker’ with vivid delight.” (The War of the Worlds, 217) The man who was left within an inch of losing his life to starvation or mutilation by Martians is gripped by the irony that he could now sit among the rubble and take pleasure in a game of cards. He is no different from the justice-obsessed, recently deceased curate; nor is he superior to the over-ambitious, potential-lacking artillary-man. For his own ideals are not recognized; and he is alien to the Martians’ ways. His ignorance is as consuming as the curate’s benighted self-declared mission from God. This illustrates Wells’ trouble with accepting his vision of doom when he illustrated so great an enthusiasm for hope. His support of the League of Nations in attempt to eradicate threats to peace goes against the message the disillusioned journalist carries. At the end of his days, Wells continued to feel the failure of his efforts, just as the protagonist in The War of the Worlds felt a “violent revulsion of feeling” (The War of the Worlds, 218) towards the drastic change of his “mental states from the midnight prayer to the foolish card-playing.” (The War of the Worlds, 218) We are in the same situation today as we strain towards global peace, yet are constantly discouraged by the heaps of our shortcomings. Pessimism not only dominates, but it is required for any rational thought. There is a huge “gulf between [our] dreams and [our] powers.” (The War of the Worlds, 213)

“Our race must perfect its power over matter before it can wisely select the ends to which it will apply that power. The idea of war had to work itself out to the full and demonstrate its own impossibility, before man could find the insight and the energy to put it behind him and have done with it.” (The Atlantic Monthly) There are thoughts in our minds as how to usher in an interminable age of world peace, but Wells clearly believed that war had proved itself as the wrong way of going about it. As the world is over-run by Martians in The War of the Worlds, the artillary-man is set to breed a new civilization underground. It is to be a stronger human race, where “Life is real again, and the useless and cumbersome and mischevious have to die. They ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. It’s a sort of disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race.” (The War of the Worlds, 211) However perfect his vision of the future may seem, his ultimate goal of rising up to reclaim Earth from the Martians by the utilization of their own “weapon of mass destruction” is what turns the journalist off. War is not the answer. We who live in the present day and age know this, and yet we are swayed by the persuasive speeches of the “artillary-men” determined to free the world of terror through the use of terror. These “artillary-men” are presidents, secretary-generals, ambassadors, senators, newscasters, and even civialians who are desperate to have their voices heard.

“It is useless to dream of clipping the wings or paring the claws of the dragon. It must be slain outright if it is not to plan unthinkable havoc with civilization; and to that end the intelligence and the moral enthusiasm of the world are now, as we see, addressing themselves.” (The Atlantic Monthly) In response to a great hazard, there is great unity. The world after World War I and II grew together and was determined to protect mankind from itself. As we drift away from those times of learning, our ways grow ignorant. Indeed, the UN has managed to “clip the wings” of many things, but who holds those sissors? We have seen that power will corrupt; it seems a natural human manifestation of the ultimate flaw in our lives. Sometimes nations are blamed and punished by the UN for mishandling crises which were inflicted by the UN itself. In Mozambique, the UN has claimed the moral wonder of its continued aid to flood victims, while the floods are caused by landslides, which are caused by deforestation, which has been called for by the UN’s International Monetary Fund to improve Mozambique’s agricultural sector. The cycle of irony wreathes our world. It does seem that our world is set on the course to self-destruction, without the means to save itself. It seems an outside force must intervene and extinguish this “energy in a gale of funk.” (The War of the Worlds, 210) Perhaps that force will be aliens from another planet.

“A failure to achieve a world guaranty of peace on the part of the diplomatists at a peace conference may lead, indeed, to a type of insurrection and revolution not merely destructive but preparatory.” (The Atlantic Monthly) The concern for the future of this war-infested planet has ridden hard with us throughout history, especially in the 20th century. As this concern carries on into the 21st century, we must wonder what the future of man will be if he cannot change his course. Our outlook is incredibly bleak. War seems to be an infinite threat, despite our efforts to declare its inescapable failure to accomplish anything for our world beyond death followed by short-lived unity. It seems some outside intervention is necessary, but as our world is most definitely not united on the issue of God and His supposed sovereignty, alien invasion seems to be the only true possibility of any purification of our land. But we doubt their existence, too. So I now “[finish up] with a certain wasteful symbolism.” (The War of the Worlds, 218)

Works Cited

“12 die in Kashmir temple siege.” The Daily Yomiuri. 26 November 2002. 5.
“Doubts over peace after attacks in Cote d’Ivoire.” The Daily Yomiuri. 29 November 2002. 6.
“Missile attack confirms US fears.” The Daily Yomiuri. 1 December 2002. 4.
Wells, H.G. The War of the Worlds. New York, New York: Platt & Munk Co., Inc., 1963. 182-218.
Wells, H.G., William Archer, Viscount Bryce, Lionel Curtis, Viscount Grey, Gilbert Murray, J.A. Spender, H. Wickham Steed, and A.E. Zimmern. “The Idea of a League of Nations.” The Atlantic Monthly. 1 December 2002. .

ROMANTICISM

“Therefore am I still A lover of the meadows and the woods, And mountains; and of all that we behold From this green earth; of all the mighty world Of eye, and ear---both what they half create, And what perceive; well pleased to recognize In nature and the language of the sense The anchor of my purest thought, the nurse, The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul Of all my moral being.” (636 l. 102-111)

The romantic period in Britain was trapped between two worlds. One was an age long gone, to which romantic poets looked for inspiration from Shakespeare and Milton. The other was “powerless to be born” (603) and was caused by England’s incessant resistance to change. “The term romantic is like Janus, the Roman god of doorways, who had two faces, one looking backward and one looking forward.” (603) Indeed the poets now classified as romanticists play the role of the doorway between the age of revolutions and the industrial age. The exploration into trusting the sense of self, the idealism, and the turmoil of change overtaking Britain at that time gave birth to new forms of lyric poetry. To understand romanticism you must meet the romanticists. As society attempted to repress their optimism, Thomas Gray, William Blake, and William Wordsworth put romanticism and “recompense” (604) hand in hand (with pen in hand) on their search to relieve the pain of the heart by taking refuge in the solitude of the pastoral realm, the human mind and imagination, and the relationship mankind has with nature.

Gray is remembered as having been in anticipation of the romantic period to come, and although not a romantic poet, his poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” reflects the characteristics of a romanticist’s poetry to a tee. “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, The plowman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me.” (567 l. 1-4) Gray chooses the pastoral setting to lay out this poem about potential lost in death and the purposelessness in the life lived leading up to death. “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” (568 l. 36) He takes us “Far from the maddening crowd’s ignoble strife,” (569 l. 73) where “Along the cool sequestered vale of life They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.” (569 l. 75-76) In this country land cemetery, Gray tells us that death is only natural, as any romanticist would say, and that just as some beauty goes unseen, there is also evil that goes unleashed for lack of opportunity. “Full many a gem of purest ray serene, The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear...nor circumscribed alone Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined...” (568 l. 53-54, 65-66)

Wordsworth also finds his spiritual satisfaction in the pastoral setting. In “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” he describes the times he has left the darkness and joylessness of the world to take a walk through the forest, to wander the hills and watch the deer, and to be invigorated at the side of a waterfall. (635 l. 50-57, 65-70, 76-80) The entire poem notes the ease he finds in nature. To romanticists, nature is beauty. Wordsworth also demonstrates this truth in his poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” In Wordsworth’s use of the word “lonely,” he is not speaking out of the desperate clutches of loneliness, but he is rather voicing his pleasure in finding solitude. The daffodils he sees that day give him a wealth of joy, and he cherishes the memory of them always. “They flash upon the inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.” (643 l. 21-24)

Perhaps William Blake is the best example of a romantic poet that we have, for he truly stands at the door. Blake’s life goes to prove it. Although Blake’s life was not colored by vast experiences and personal difficulties, rather was very settled and steady, Blake’s imagination was his real life; and it was as vivid as the hues of red that bleed through the clouds at sunset. Blake once said that “ ‘A man’s life of any worth is a continual allegory---and very few eyes can see the mystery...[which like the Bible is] figurative...’ ” (617 R) In Blake’s Songs of Innocence, he tries to allow us see through different perspectives such as in the poem “The Lamb.” The images created are soft, mild, and bright. “Gave thee clothing of delight, Softest clothing wooly bright;” (622 l. 5-6) The Songs of Innocence are happy and young, written to bring joy. Here Blake stands at the door. In his Songs of Experience, Blake writes from a perspective worn by time and wisdom such as in the poem “The Tyger.” “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal had or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” (620 l.1-4) In both “The Lamb” and “The Tyger,” Blake is speaking of a Creator, who formed the lamb and the tyger, yet the perspectives he takes on are entirely different. This marvel at nature from all sides and from within could be the most profound made by any romanticist.

Standing at the doorway of time and consequence, Gray, Wordsworth, and Blake pen the poetry that will heal and empower the soul of a nation to step forward into a new beginning. As they emphasize the mystery of the human mind, the potential it holds, and the deep relationship man has with nature, they help England to its feet; and as they “recompense” (604) for the optimism drained by society, they give us all “warmer love---oh, with far deeper zeal Of holier love.” (637 l. 154-155)

Works Cited

Anderson, Robert ed. Elements of Literature: Sixth Course - Literature of Britain. Eds. Robert Anderson, et al. Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1993. 603-604.
Anderson, Robert ed. Elements of Literature: Sixth Course - Literature of Britain. Eds. Robert Anderson, et al. Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1993. 617.
Blake, William. “The Lamb.” Elements of Literature: Sixth Course - Literature of Britain. Eds. Robert Anderson, et al. Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1993. 622.
Blake, William. “The Tyger.” Elements of Literature: Sixth Course - Literature of Britain. Eds. Robert Anderson, et al. Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1993. 620.
Gray, Thomas. “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Elements of Literature: Sixth Course - Literature of Britain. Eds. Robert Anderson, et al. Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1993. 567-569.
Wordsworth, William. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” Elements of Literature: Sixth Course - Literature of Britain. Eds. Robert Anderson, et al. Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1993. 643.
Wordsworth, William. “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” Elements of Literature: Sixth Course - Literature of Britain. Eds. Robert Anderson, et al. Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1993. 633-637.

"THE GREAT DIVORCE" by CS Lewis

William Blake, a poet of the British Romantic period, wrote of the “Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” (v) In response, C.S. Lewis wrote of The Great Divorce in allegorical format to demonstrate the impossibility of Heaven and Hell existing together in harmony. The Great Divorce is a fantasy story of a man who lives in a strange, supernatural realm where he catches a bus and takes a journey. The man, the protagonist and narrator of the story, travels to a land where remarkable creatures live on a terrain most certainly uninhabitable by regular human beings. Through the discourse between many of his fellow travelers and their conversations with some of the remarkable creatures, as well as some conversations of his own, the man learns many things. Of all that he learns, the most important are the differences between Heaven and Hell, both their difference from each other and the difference from what they have always been thought to be. Lewis treats the afterlife in a way revolutionary even to those who hold to a similar Christian faith as he. Lewis uses symbolism and Biblical allusions, as well as logical reasoning to demonstrate his view of the afterlife.

The protagonist in The Great Divorce lives in a land of twilight, just before night. The night symbolizes Hell. However, “there is not a shred of evidence that [the] twilight is ever going to turn into a night.” (14) On his journey, he goes to an odd place where the light seems to be that which comes just before dawn. The dawn symbolizes Heaven. “[In the] subdued and delicate half-light is the promise of the dawn: the slow turning of a whole nation towards the light.” (15) In the land on the edge of becoming Heaven, all humans are diaphanous at first, for the light shoots through them, making them “smudgy and imperfectly opaque when [standing] in the shadow of some tree. They [are] in fact ghosts: man-shaped stains on the brightness of that air.” (18) Lewis uses dawn to symbolize Heaven and night to symbolize Hell. He seems to be commenting that men do not naturally belong in the light, but that they must somehow change in order to be in Heaven.

Throughout the chapters of this allegory, the protagonist witnesses various encounters between humans and the supernatural beings, which are in fact humans that have changed and now live in the light. In one such encounter between an intellectual man and a changed human named Dick, Lewis uncovers in symbolic format what Heaven and Hell really are. Dick argues that the gray city the intellectual man has been living in is in fact Hell, but that if he decides not to return, it was Purgatory. However, if he does return, then his present visit to this “radiant abyss” (15) of Heaven will have been a visit to Purgatory. Dick claims that “[they] were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes.” (34) The land in which the narrator and the ghosts lived is called “The Valley of the Shadow of Death,” (63) not Hell. And the land which they now visit is “The Valley of the Shadow of Life,” (63) and it is not Heaven.

The protagonist himself meets a changed human named George Macdonald, an author whom he admired in life. They have long discussions regarding the nature of the place they are in and the moral objectives of the visit. George answers the protagonist’s questions and explains that “Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn [even agony into glory...but] damnation will spread back and back into [the] past and contaminate the pleasure [of sin.]” (64) He explains that “Hell is a state of mind...but Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself...for all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains.” (65) In regards to who will be in Hell, Lewis speaks through George and says “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.” (69)

In the conversation between Dick and the intellectual man, Lewis makes allusion to the writings of the New Testament. First he alludes to the the time when Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well and told her that he could give her water to quench her eternal thirst. Dick tells the intellectual man that if he will “repent and believe,” (35) that his “thirst shall be quenched.” (37) Dick tries to convince the intellectual man to become childlike and inquire after the truth. The intellectual man responds with a direct quotation from 1 Corinthians, “Ah, but when I became a man I put away childish things.” (38) The intellectual man insists that all of the matters he has discussed with Dick are speculative and cannot be considered fact.

There is further Biblical allusion when the protagonist journeys upriver and watches one of the ghosts attempt to steal golden apples from a tree standing in a bed of lilies near a waterfall. The observed ghost sneaks from bush to bush, as if hiding from someone. When he finally obtains the apples, he finds that they are too heavy for him to carry; but taking the smallest in hand he labors with all his foolish might. The narrator watches as the ghost strains to carry the apple away. This is an allusion to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve hid from God and tried to get away with disobedience. The golden apple symbolizes the issue of sin, an issue widely addressed in the Bible. The burden is to great for the ghost to bear. Suddenly, there is a voice that penetrates the ghost’s struggle. “The waterfall itself [is] speaking...It [is a] bright angel who [stands], like one crucified, against the rocks and [pours] himself perpetually down towards the forest with loud joy.” (46) This is an allusion to the description of God’s voice in Revelation. The waterfall tells the ghost that he cannot take the apple, and so the ghost hobbles away, defeated by his own selfish desires.

The conclusion of The Great Divorce is a final allusion. The light which seemed hesitant all this while is now steeping over the hills, and the angels are singing. “Sleepers awake! It comes!” (132) The sun is rising, and the protagonist is in agony as he realizes that he is a ghost, and not a changed human, as the morning comes. In Ephesians as well as in Isaiah, there are many times “sleepers” are called to awake and let Christ’s light shine upon them. Lewis ends his book with a call to all those who read it to make the choice between reality or an eternal state of mind. Through the use of allegory, allusion, symbolism, and persuasive debate, Lewis demonstrates his view of the afterlife. In his preface, he emphasizes that he does not “[wish to arouse] factual curiosity about the details of the after-world,” (viii) but that he intends this novel to be a fantasy story with a moral. This was an excellent book, and the study of it was most invigorating. It was extremely helpful to have a good understanding of the Bible, as well as to have studied extensively regarding the afterlife before reading this book. The discovery of countless illusions and many quotable sections left me breathless with wonder. Because it is my personal copy of the book, I have it marked and I have notes in the columns. In deciding the topic of my essay, there was little cause for deliberation: it was most obvious that the purpose of the book was to make a moral statement; I simply have tried to demonstrate my understanding of Lewis’ profound writing.

Works Cited

Lewis, C.S. The Great Divorce. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1946.

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